onsdag 26 november 2008


Portrait photography is an art and the best portrait photographers spend years perfecting their craft. While the revolution of digital photography has given us more shots than we know what to do with, this doesn't necessarily mean that we always get the results we want. When it comes to selecting a good portrait picture, from the hundreds of shots we've taken, we sometimes still have to settle for less than perfect.

Even if you're not a professional it's easy to start taking great portraits for your greeting cards, invitations, and business material. By keeping a few simple principles and techniques in mind you'll get better results every time.

Of course never forget the amateur’s cardinal rule of portrait photography – take lots!

1. Use portrait mode

Most digital cameras today have a dedicated portrait setting. If you haven't been using this setting for your portrait shots it's time to start. Without getting too technical, the portrait setting on your camera limits the depth of field. This blurs the background while putting the subject in sharp focus, which is what you want when taking a portrait.

2. Zoom for focus [images: compare zoomed and unzoomed photos of same subject]

Again, your digital cameras is likely to have a zoom function. What's important here to distinguish between optical and digital zoom. You only want to use your camera's optical zoom and never the digital zoom! Many cameras will allow you to disable this function (I keep mine off permanently). Pictures taken using the digital zoom usually look terrible and require significant post-editing on a program like Adobe Photoshop to salvage them.

By stepping back and then zooming in on your portrait subject you reduce the depth of field, putting your subject in sharper relief by blurring objects in the foreground and background. This naturally draws attention to your “zoom” subject.

3. Force the flash [image: flash setting icon]

Adjust your camera's flash setting to force the flash to go off, even if the light meter tells you the flash is unnecessary. If your camera has a red-eye reduction mode flash that's even better and you should select this mode.

By forcing the flash to go off you are creating what is known as a “fill” flash. A fill flash helps to eliminate harsh shadows that might fall across your subject's face. It also helps to give your subject a twinkle in their eye (what's known as “catchlights” in portrait photography), producing a more flattering and alive portrait.

4. Think about your lighting [images: outdoor vs. indoor]

For most amateur photographers lighting is more of an afterthought. Ask the pros, on the other hand, and they know that lighting is of paramount importance if you want to achieve good results. You've probably noticed that pictures you take indoors, using only indoor lighting (i.e. no natural, outdoor source) and your flash, usually suffer in quality. The same goes for portraits. Strive to incorporate natural light to illuminate your subject. The direction the light is coming from and the time of day come into play here.

Personally I think that the best time for taking pictures is in the hour or two before sunset, when the sun is low in the sky. Position your subject so the light is coming from behind and sideways.

Don't forget to force the flash to minimize shadows on your subject's face.

5. Best backgrounds [images: show a couple different backgrounds]

If you've followed the steps above regarding framing and zooming to limit depth of field you shouldn't have to worry about the background too much – your subject will be the main point of interest in your photo. The further your background is from your subject, the more blurred it will be and the better your subject will stand out.

It's important to think about how the background gives context to the portrait. Does it add to the picture? Is it distracting? Does it help tell the portrait tell its story?

6. Tell a story [image: show a great 'storytelling' portrait]

A great portrait tells a story about its subject. Think about this when you are composing your portrait. Does it capture who the subject is and how you want to portray them (or how they want/need to be portrayed)? A great portrait photographer has a keen interest in his or her subject and aims to tell a story with each portrait.

Keep some of these easy pointers in mind and you'll be on your way to becoming a great portrait photographer. Happy snapping!

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